NFC West: Brandon Gibson

The St. Louis Rams list nine wide receivers on their 90-man roster. That is the lowest figure in the NFL and three below the league average.

The overall number isn't most important to the Rams right now. For the first time in recent memory, they have five young receivers they're eager to build around: Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis.

Pettis, Givens and Quick are returning. Austin and Bailey are new. Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Steve Smith are among those gone from this time last year.

For a closer look at rosters for the Rams and their NFC West rivals, check out my latest roster file, ready for download here.

Enjoy your Saturday -- the second-to-last one before training camps open.
Chatting with Bernie Miklasz about the NFC West in general and the St. Louis Rams in particular has become a staple each Tuesday.

The run is ending this week after Bernie hosted his final show on 101ESPN St. Louis. Bernie isn't leaving, fortunately. He's recommitting to his main job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper has created an expanded role for him through its website. We'll stay in touch and collaborate in new ways, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I wanted to share the audio link to our conversation Tuesday. This was a Rams-only conversation primarily about their draft, specifically how the team has changed on offense.

The chart below shows key receivers, tight ends and running backs for the Rams in their final game before coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived. It also shows key players at those positions now. Some of the players from the 2011 regular-season finale were on injured reserve at the time. The last two receivers listed in the right column aren't key players at the position. I included their names to even up the chart.
The NFL draft becomes a blur on the final day as teams select lesser-known players one after another.

By the end, it's helpful to take a look at the bigger picture.

The chart above shows which general positions NFC West teams targeted. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are listed as skill players. The other group names are self-explanatory.

Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick Jared Smith played defensive tackle at New Hampshire. He will play guard for Seattle. The chart reflects that change. There will be other tweaks and distinctions as we learn more about how teams plan to use players.

A few thoughts initially based on available information:
  • RB picture: NFC West teams loaded up on running backs. That position was already evolving with Steven Jackson's departure from the St. Louis Rams and Beanie Wells' departure from the Arizona Cardinals. Spencer Ware, the running back Seattle selected from LSU in the sixth round, projects at fullback to some extent, coach Pete Carroll said.
  • WR shifts: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Early Doucet, Randy Moss and Ben Obomanu are among the veteran wide receivers to leave NFC West teams this offseason. The division added Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin before selecting five wideouts in the draft, four in the first four rounds.
  • DT focus: Seattle drafted three players listed as defensive tackles, not counting Smith. No other team in the division drafted one. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters the team could address that position in free agency.
  • Safety numbers: Every team in the division but Seattle needed a safety. The 49ers took Eric Reid in the first round. The Rams took T.J. McDonald early in the third. The Cardinals did not take one, but they plan for early third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu to play a hybrid safety-corner role. Mathieu is listed as a cornerback.
  • Front seven: Think the 49ers wanted to help their front seven, which wore down last season and needs to develop players for the line in future seasons? San Francisco drafted three players listed as defensive ends. Tank Carradine is 275 pounds with versatility. Corey Lemonier, at 255 pounds, is more of an outside linebacker type. Quinton Dial is 318 pounds and a pure lineman.
Tavon AustinJerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsThe St. Louis Rams haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since 1999.
For three years, the St. Louis Rams lacked sufficient offensive weapons to properly support and evaluate prized quarterback Sam Bradford.

They drafted Tavon Austin eighth overall Thursday night to change the dynamic.

The pressure isn't necessarily on Bradford to instantly produce in a huge way or else, but for the first time in the quarterback's career, the Rams have given him a highly drafted and versatile young group of targets to grow along with him.

Bradford is still just 25 years old. He's a few days younger than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, hard as that is to believe.

Austin, a wideout unlike any other in this draft, just turned 22. Chris Givens, who had a reception of at least 50 yards in five consecutive games as a rookie in 2012, won't turn 24 until December. Brian Quick, a second-rounder last year, turns 24 in June. Austin Pettis is 25 next month. The newly acquired Jared Cook just turned 26. Fellow tight end Lance Kendricks is 25.

The targets for Bradford range in height from the 5-foot-8 Austin to Givens (5-11), Pettis (6-3), Quick (6-3), Kendricks (6-3) and Cook (6-5).

"They're going to create mismatches which are going to have to be dealt with defensively," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Austin and Givens in particular.

Austin's selection marked the first time the Rams have used a first-round pick for a receiver since taking Torry Holt sixth overall in 1999. About time, right?

No wide receiver has more than eight touchdown receptions for the Rams since the team drafted Bradford first overall in 2010. Fifty-eight NFL wideouts have at least nine scoring receptions over the same three-year period.

Bradford shares some of the blame, of course. But the supporting cast has let him down too frequently. The offensive line, undermanned and ravaged by injuries, has exposed Bradford to undue punishment. Danny Amendola's injury troubles prevented Bradford from building upon an on-field relationship that appeared so promising at times, including against the 49ers last season.

"Tavon will play a similar position as Danny," Rams general manager Les Snead said by phone Thursday night. "He will also return punts and return kickoffs. And you can do some things with him that may cause defenses to wonder if the play is a throw or a run. Put him with fast tight ends, with our receivers and we're trying to create mismatches."

The Rams could have paid a premium to keep Amendola, arguably their top receiver, from leaving in free agency. They could have paid a few million bucks to keep their other starting receiver, Brandon Gibson.

Instead, the Rams have bet big on their ability to scout fresh talent. They have entrusted Fisher and Snead to build the type of supporting cast Snead helped Atlanta assemble around quarterback Matt Ryan previously. Snead was working under Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff when Atlanta traded up 21 spots in the first round to select receiver Julio Jones sixth overall in 2011.

"They made a larger jump and their team was probably at a more mature state," Snead said of the Falcons. "But we stated all along how we wanted to get this offense weapons."

The move from No. 16 to No. 8 for Austin could be just as significant for the Rams if they're right about Austin possessing unique qualities as a 5-foot-8, 174-pound dynamo with touchdowns as a runner, receiver and return specialist at West Virginia last season. Austin finished the season with 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 receiving scores.

To get Austin, the Rams sent picks in the first, second, third and seventh rounds to Buffalo for first- and third-round choices.

"They did give up a lot," Austin told reporters in St. Louis, "but I'm definitely going to try to work my hardest to give out a lot. I'm going to come out every day at work ready to play."

The first round ended for the Rams with the team moving back from 22nd to 30th in a trade with Atlanta, then selecting outside linebacker Alec Ogletree.

"To be honest, the plan No. 1 was to come away with Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree, and it worked out," Snead said. "We knew we would have to give up some things to get Tavon. We felt we could recoup some of those things and still get Alec."

Austin's status as the first skill player selected verifies the first part of Snead's statement. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Thursday marked only the fourth time in the common-draft era (since 1967) that no team selected a quarterback, running back or wide receiver before the eighth overall pick. Herman Moore (1991) and Al Toon (1985) went 10th overall in their draft classes. Austin and Larry Csonka (1968) went eighth in theirs.

There can be no denying the Rams got the receiver they wanted.

Rookie wideouts sometimes need time to adjust. Austin should contribute right away on special teams, at least. The biggest challenge could be digesting an NFL playbook. Processing terminology in the huddle can be much tougher than reading simplified signals from the sideline, as the case can be in college.

"I never came out of the big playbook in college [like] they have in the NFL," Austin said. "I did all signals. I don’t know how it’s going to be when I get to the league. That’s probably going to be my biggest challenge right now."

The Rams could still use a starting safety. They could use another running back to round out a backfield featuring committee backs Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Getting a big back Friday should be a priority as the Rams continue to build around Bradford.

"One of the things was, when it tipped and we gave up a second-rounder, our board was looking like the better value for our team and our fits and the roles we want them to execute the next few years was going to be more in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds," Snead said.

The Rams won't be shy. Snead has demonstrated that. A year after the Rams swung a blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins to secure two additional first-rounders and more, they were navigating their way up the board for Austin.

"You have decisions to make and don't be scared to get what you want," Snead said.
Bernie Miklasz tricked his 101ESPN St. Louis guest -- me -- into saying the St. Louis Rams have had the worst offseason to date among NFC West teams.

We laughed about it Tuesday during our weekly conversation .

Let's just call the Rams' offseason the fourth-best in the division based on what we know. The Rams' move away from established players on offense has naturally raised short-term questions about whether the team will be better right away. Sometimes, though, the unknown is better.

The Rams made two high-profile additions, signing tight end Jared Cook and left tackle Jake Long. They're scheduled to make two high-profile acquisitions Thursday night when they use the 16th and 22nd choices in the 2013 draft.

St. Louis has parted with four players who participated in at least 95 percent of the Rams' offensive or defensive snaps last season. No other team has subtracted as many. Robert Turner, Barry Richardson, Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell left the team for varying reasons. Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola played fewer snaps, but they were arguably more valuable to the team that the others, with the possible exception of Mikell.

Those players represented the known, which can sometimes be more comfortable.

I'm interested in see what the unknown holds for St. Louis. It's also clear the team needs additional reinforcements, beginning with whatever players St. Louis adds in the draft.
FlipperEllard89 from California wonders why the St. Louis Rams didn't keep more of their own unrestricted free agents.

"There has been a lot of talk about Jeff Fisher being a strong reason that players sign with us in free agency -- Jake Long, Jared Cook, Cortland Finnegan, etc.," he writes. "Why didn't playing with Fisher have a bigger impact on keeping this year's free-agent class? Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Robert Turner, Craig Dahl and Bradley Fletcher come to mind. We wanted at least a couple of these guys back, right?"

Sando: The Rams made little or no effort to keep those players. They felt now was a good time to make the break with Jackson. They could not justify paying a $7 million salary to an older running back while building around younger players. Jackson wasn't interested in taking a pay reduction after all he'd given to the organization. Both sides had good reasons for following the courses they chose to follow.

The Rams ideally would have kept Amendola, but at what price was that going to make sense? And if that price were high enough, would it affect the team's ability to land other free agents such as Long or Cook? I've felt for some time that Gibson was an adequate player, but not the answer, either. The longer he was starting, the more clear it was that St. Louis was not improving sufficiently at the position. The same could be said for Turner and Dahl, who were good role players.

Now, that doesn't mean every one of those players had to go. The Rams could pay a higher price if their younger players aren't ready.

The Rams are taking a leap of faith this year. They're moving on from the known to the unknown. In most cases, the known was not all that great. There's still risk involved, but overall, I appreciate the Rams' willingness to build around young draft choices. They have decided to pay top dollar for a couple younger free agents such as Long and Cook. They have generally decided against signing role players for a few million dollars per year, figuring drafted players can perform as well or better at more affordable prices.

Fans will feel better about things, most likely, when the Rams select two more players in the first round next month.
Two of the better receivers from the 2009 NFL draft call the NFC West home after the Seattle Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings

Harvin and the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree, both first-round choices, rank first and second, respectively, in receptions among wide receivers from that 2009 class.

The chart at right shows where they rank among the 26 wide receivers from the 2009 draft with at least one reception. Of those players, Harvin has by far the most rushing attempts with 107. Mike Thomas is second with 34. Crabtree has 14. Harvin ranks second in kickoff returns with 114, behind Brandon Tate (119).

The chart below ranks 2009 drafted wide receivers by receptions. Missing the cut: Brian Hartline (183), Thomas (176), Brandon Gibson (174), Austin Collie (173), Kenny Britt (146), Darrius Heyward-Bey (140), Johnny Knox (133), Mohamed Massaquoi (118) and Louis Murphy (115). No other receivers from that class have more than 69 career receptions.

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals set a low bar in free agency and cleared it pretty easily. They weren't in position to attack the market aggressively because they had some salary-cap and player-valuation issues to address in the immediate term. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim parted with Kevin Kolb, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Beanie Wells and Early Doucet. Some of those moves cleared significant cap room, but the dead money left over was enough to crimp the Cardinals' style. The first nine players Arizona signed in free agency (Frostee Rucker became the 10th on Wednesday) counted $12.9 million against the salary cap in 2013. That was about how much the team cleared by releasing Kolb and Rhodes. Call it addition by subtraction and give the Cardinals a passing grade in free agency under difficult circumstances. Quarterback Drew Stanton and running back Rashard Mendenhall are the only offensive players added to this point in the process. Arians thinks better health will restore the offensive line. He also loves the talent at that position in the draft. The team is setting itself up to draft for offense, it appears.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams are losers in free agency if you think they "lost" Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Gibson and Robert Turner. The team was willing and sometimes even eager to move on from most of those players, however. The Rams plan to develop their younger players while acquiring more of them through free agency and the draft. They paid big money for two free agents, and both are relatively young, a plus. Tight end Jared Cook is not quite 26 years old. Left tackle Jake Long could be an old 27 based on recent injuries, but he's right around the league average for age. We could mark down St. Louis for losing both starting safeties (Quintin Mikell was released for cap purposes) and failing to land a replacement. The draft appears strong at that position, however, and Mikell could be re-signed at some point. We're only 10 days into the process, and the Rams haven't made any ridiculous moves. Getting Long on a relatively short-term deal (four years) seemed like a positive.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers watched longtime contributors Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Dashon Goldson sign elsewhere. That was the plan given the price tags associated with all three players. The 49ers knew they couldn't pay premium dollars to those players after fielding the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Their disciplined approach to the market has served them well in recent seasons. This year, it helped them find room on the balance sheet for receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired from the Baltimore Ravens. The signing of Glenn Dorsey to the defensive line seemed curious at first, but it's clear to me the 49ers have special plans for the player drafted fifth overall back in 2008. Although Phil Dawson's signing stabilizes the kicking situation, his $2.35 million cap figure for 2013 means the team will again be paying a bit of a premium at the position, particularly with former kicker David Akers' terminated contract still counting against the cap. With 14 draft picks, couldn't San Francisco have found a rookie to do the job at lower cost?

Seattle Seahawks: Jason Jones is the only Seattle free agent to sign with another team this offseason. Seattle appeared to upgrade from Jones by getting Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett on a one-year deal counting $4.8 million against the cap. Signing Bennett and former Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril to short-term deals makes the Seahawks a pretty clear winner in free agency to this point. Percy Harvin was not acquired in free agency, so he isn't counting in the equation. His addition addressed the position, however, diminishing the need for Seattle to sign a veteran wideout. Upgrading the pass rush was really the only priority for the Seahawks once the Harvin trade went through. Bennett and Avril combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Both are playing on short-term deals with plenty to prove and only short-term cap ramifications for the team.
The St. Louis Rams have not been scrambling to add wide receivers after watching Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson sign elsewhere in free agency.

That should tell us what the team thinks of its young receiving targets.

"St. Louis was the place I wanted to be," Gibson told reporters covering his new team, the Miami Dolphins, "but you know, I think they wanted to go in a different direction with the receivers they drafted very early."

Brian Quick was a second-round choice in 2012. Givens was a fourth-round pick. Tight end Lance Kendricks was a second-rounder in 2011. Tight end Jared Cook, signed from the Tennessee Titans in free agency this week, was a third-round choice in 2009. Receiver Austin Pettis was a third-round choice in 2011.

The Rams are counting on Quick and Givens in particular.

"They have a lot of faith in them, and I as well have a lot of faith in them," Gibson said. "I think they do a great job while they're there and they do a great job of getting those other guys the ball, and Sam [Bradford] is going to do a great job of leading that team. So, I think they’ll be just fine without me."

The Rams could also supplement their receiving corps through the draft. They have two first-round picks this year and in 2014.
St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson became the 13th unrestricted free agent from the NFC West to reach a contract agreement since the signing period opened Tuesday.

The Miami Dolphins announced what was thought to be a three-year agreement with Gibson, who did not figure into the Rams' plans after catching 51 passes for 691 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns last season.

The chart below lists all UFAs from NFC West teams, noting which ones reached contract agreements.

In other developments around the division:
  • Tackle update: Dolphins free-agent tackle Jake Long left Rams headquarters without a contract agreement. That leads me to think Long will most likely sign elsewhere. The Rams have other options, including the draft (they have two first-round selections, after all). Long would upgrade the line, no question, but price deserves special consideration given injury concerns. To what degree Long wants to leave Miami is another potential factor.
  • Safety market: Rams free agent safety Craig Dahl is reportedly visiting the San Francisco 49ers. The Detroit Lions re-signed safety Louis Delmas, who had visited both the Rams and 49ers. The safety market remains flooded even after former Cardinals mainstay Adrian Wilson reportedly reached an agreement with New England. Teams can afford to take their time.
  • Aldon's shoulder: Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. That is counter to what Smith told Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News last month. The 49ers do not disclose information regarding surgeries. Either way, Smith was known to have played through shoulder trouble last season. He'll presumably be healthy for 2013.
  • Obomanu let go: Longtime (since 2006) Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu's Twitter account indicated the Seahawks planned to release him. The move had seemed likely even before the team acquired Percy Harvin. Obomanu was scheduled to earn $2.3 million in salary from a team that no longer needed him as much on offense or special teams. Obomanu went from playing roughly half the offensive snaps over the 2010 and 2011 seasons to playing 29.2 percent of them last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Dumervil available: The Denver Broncos' failed attempt to renegotiate Elvis Dumervil's contract ended with the team releasing Dumervil and an explanatory statement. Dumervil's 63.5 sacks tied for seventh-most in the NFL since his 2006 rookie season even though Dumervil missed the 2010 season due to injury. There are no indications NFC West teams have serious interest in Dumervil, but his name is another to keep in mind, at least.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.

NFL big plays: Who and what makes them

February, 25, 2013
NFL teams spent Sunday watching running backs and wide receivers work out at the NFL scouting combine. As always, teams are looking for players with big-play ability.

But what is a big play?

In my experience, NFL teams tend to see them as runs covering 12-plus yards and passes covering 16-plus yards.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used different measures in a recent piece suggesting the St. Louis Rams need to find a game-breaking player in the draft. But the idea is the same across the board. The longer the play, the better for offenses.

I've put together a couple charts showing where NFC West teams stood last season in big plays, using NFL teams' definition of them. The Rams had 102, which is about the same as they had in 2011 (100) and 2010 (100). They had 89 in 2009.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford led the NFC West with 66 of these 16-plus completed passes. Seattle's Russell Wilson was second with 64. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (41) and Alex Smith (32) combined for 73. John Skelton (26), Kevin Kolb (20), Ryan Lindley (12) and Brian Hoyer (4) combined for Arizona's total of 62.

The San Francisco 49ers had 126 total big plays, up from 108 in each of the previous two seasons. Seattle had 121, a rise from 95 in 2011, 100 in 2010 and 80 in 2009. Arizona had 84, down from its totals in 2011 (103), 2010 (102) and 2009 (122).

The first chart shows totals for last season. The chart below shows individual NFC West leaders, also from last season.

The Seahawks and 49ers pumped up their totals for rushing with additional quarterback runs covering at least 12 yards. Wilson (14) and Kaepernick (11) combined for 25 of them. Smith added two for the 49ers. Kolb had five. Bradford had three.

We can revisit in the future whether the 12- and 16-yard cutoffs are most meaningful. I just know those are the cutoffs teams cite when evaluating players and offensive production.

NFC West links: Walton to run Rams D

February, 13, 2013
Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback Kevin Kolb would like to stick with the Cardinals, but not at the expense of a better contract, writes Darren Urban of Kent Somers of also weighed in on Kolb's contract situation. Somers: "There’s little question Kolb, carrying a cheaper price tag, is a better option than anyone else on the roster or in free agency."

Dan Bickley of looks at alternatives to Kolb at QB for the Cardinals: Drew Stanton, Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.

San Francisco 49ers

Will the 49ers make a play for Vikings receiver Percy Harvin? Don't count on it, writes's Matt Maiocco. "Good teams treat their draft picks like gold. Teams that want to win consistently generally do not hand out big contracts to attract players from other teams. Yes, Harvin's contract for 2013 makes him affordable, but he would want a lucrative extension from any team that acquires him," Maiocco writes. "The 49ers have done a good job of managing their salary cap, and I would not expect them to break the bank with a market-value deal for a big-name player from another team."

Free agent receiver Greg Jennings would be a "perfect fit" for the 49ers, according to Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be driven by the 49ers' loss in the Super Bowl all offseason. "That's sort of the life of a coach. Will it eat at me? Of course it will. But I'll use it as motivation going forward," Roman told's Peter King.

Seattle Seahawks

The team had three players -- Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas -- on's All-Under-25 Team.

Defensive back/kick returner Will Blackmon signed with the Seahawks Wednesday, reports USA Today's Mike Garafolo.

St. Louis Rams

Detroit Lions assistant coach Tim Walton has accepted the Rams' job offer to be their defensive coordinator, reports Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Rams could lose promising wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola in free agency, writes Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times.

Fantasy Watch: NFC West points leaders

December, 23, 2012
Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick, Beanie Wells and Michael Crabtree ranked among the NFL's top 12 scorers in fantasy points for Week 15.

This might not be a big deal to everyone, but if you had Wilson and Kaepernick starting as lower-priced quarterbacks on your Gridiron Challenge team, you might blog about it.

St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks will be joining them in my Week 16 lineup. He faces a suspect Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass defense that ranks 27th in Total QBR allowed. Tight ends Brandon Myers (17 points), Martellus Bennett (13), Clay Harbor (11) and Antonio Gates (11) have had double-digit fantasy scoring games against the Bucs. Greg Olsen (nine), Jacob Tamme (8) and Fred Davis (7) came close.

Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson (22 points Saturday night) and Greg Zuerlein are rounding out my player lineup this week. It was only fitting that I failed to sub out the Detroit Lions' defense before their kickoff Saturday night against the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons. Call it richly deserved punishment for placing the Falcons only sixth on my most recent power rankings ballot.

The chart shows NFC West leaders in fantasy points this season. Not pictured: Larry Fitzgerald, with 87 points, down from 151 at this point last season. He trails Michael Crabtree (124), Sidney Rice (110), Golden Tate (95) and teammate Andre Roberts (95) among NFC West wideouts with two games remaining. Brandon Gibson (86), Danny Amendola (78) and Chris Givens (77) are next.

Fantasy Watch: Receiver injuries in focus

December, 16, 2012
Receiver injuries are affecting the NFC West on the field and on fantasy football rosters.

Let's run through what we know for Week 15:
  • Arizona Cardinals: A concussion will prevent Early Doucet from playing for Arizona against the Detroit Lions. Doucet was once the Cardinals' go-to receiver on third down. The last time Doucet missed a game, in Week 12, rookie Michael Floyd played 67.5 percent of the offensive snaps, a season high at the time. Floyd played 94.4 percent the following week, when starter Andre Roberts was out. Tight end Rob Housler is questionable for the game against Detroit. That could mean additional playing time and targets for wide receivers. The problem, of course, has been getting the ball to those receivers.
  • St. Louis Rams: Danny Amendola was listed as probable on the injury report, a strong indication he'll return from a foot injury. Amendola once played in a game this season when listed as doubtful. The Rams average 7.0 yards per pass attempt on third down with Amendola on the field. The figure is 6.1 yards per attempt on third down without him. If Amendola plays, there could be fewer short and intermediate opportunities for rookie Chris Givens, who has emerged as more than just a deep threat in recent weeks. Austin Pettis would probably see his playing time reduced with Amendola available. Brandon Gibson's playing time has held steady for the most part. He's coming off a strong game against Buffalo.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Coach Pete Carroll declared receiver Sidney Rice ready to play despite a foot injury. Rice practiced without limitation Friday. He's been much more durable this season than in the recent past. Third receiver Doug Baldwin played a season-high 71.4 percent of the snaps against Arizona last week. Rice and Golden Tate played less than in the recent past, but the lopsided nature of the game (58-0 final score) surely had something to do with that. Rice, Tate and Baldwin are clearly the top three receivers. Jermaine Kearse and the newly re-signed Deon Butler are the only other receivers on the 53-man roster. Ben Obomanu (injured reserve), Braylon Edwards (released) and Charly Martin (injured reserve) are out of the picture.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Mario Manningham has a shoulder injury and will not play against New England. That probably means additional snaps for second tight end Delanie Walker. Walker has set season highs for playing time in the two games Manningham missed previously. He was at 68.3 percent or higher in both. Walker has played 54.5 percent for the season. Randy Moss' snaps also figure to continue their recent rise. He played a season-high 50 percent against Miami last week. Rookie A.J. Jenkins played 13.8 percent, the first time he has played in a game this season. His playing time came at Ted Ginn Jr.'s expense. Ginn was at 8.6 percent against the Dolphins after playing a season-high 19.5 percent the previous week, San Francisco's first without Kyle Williams, who is on injured reserve.